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Enterprise Real-Time Communications: Is Chat Replacing Email?

The rise of collaboration services as an option for real-time communications is helping to slim down email inboxes.

Real-time communication is a critical aspect of enterprise collaboration in the hybrid work model with more employees working from home remotely while others begin returning to their physical office spaces. It’s a feature often touted in unified communications platforms, where “unified communications” covers voice, collaboration, chat, and meetings as converging technologies.

According to Omdia, Informa Tech’s global research business, unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is growing. Between the first half of 2020 and the first half of 2021, revenue in this business area grew 23% to $8.7 billion, and is projected to reach at least $28 billion by 2025. This kind of growth suggests more enterprise organizations and employees will shift their real-time communications to incorporate both chat and email into their workflows, along with the other elements of UC.

Omdia stated that while companies have been using UC from cloud services for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that usage forward because it provides more flexible real-time communications options.

Differences in Real-Time Communications: Chat vs. Email

Earlier this year, Swoop Analytics released an extensive report, the 2021 Microsoft Teams Benchmarking Report, which looked at data from nearly 100,000 teams at 33 organizations during a three-month timeframe.

Among the key findings of this report: Chat is becoming the preferred method of communications between individual team members rather than sending emails to each other for one-on-one communications.

This makes a lot of sense, especially over the last 18 months with most everyone working remotely, because chat easily replaces those in-person conversations that are typically held in the hallways, break areas, and team member offices. Chat for real-time communications provides a quick means to clarify a work-related item and then move forward with the work around that item.

Real-Time Communications: Using the Tool That Best Fits

As the chat vs. email question gains more traction, it's important to note that each of these real-time communications methods has their pros and cons. While one might be overtaking the other in many enterprise organizations as noted by Swoop’s report, both continue to have a unique place in enterprise communications.

For example, email can provide a chronological history of any subjects that are discussed at length through an email thread. Typically, email supports broader and more in-depth discussions in one place and those emails can easily be archived by any party in the email chain.

Microsoft, Google, and Slack all provide policy options to retain both emails and chat messages for compliance purposes. These lengths of retention vary according to industry and platform and will help any organization meet their legal obligations in this area.

The other reality is that chat will never fully replace email simply because they are two different styles of communications.

Using them in the right situations is important to documenting work-based knowledge. This includes not hesitating to take a chat-based conversation and converting it to an email to make other members of the team aware of that discussion and its content.

Just like those missing hallway and break room discussions due to a hybrid work model, the exchange of critical organizational knowledge continues to remain an important aspect of any enterprise team. Using the right tool at the right time for those real-time communications is the challenge for teams these days.

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